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Convocation signals new beginnings

Convocation 2017Lamar University opened with fanfare as faculty and staff gathered on Tuesday, August 22, to hear the annual “state-of-the-university” address from President Kenneth Evans signaling the start of the 2017-2018 academic year. Returning students begin moving in August 24 and freshmen move-in is August 25. Classes begin Monday, August 28.

LU’s award-winning drumline, elements of the marching band, cheerleaders, and mascots Big Red and Lu added to the festive air in the arena festooned in signature red and black. As faculty and staff greeted one another and filtered into the Montagne Center arena from the morning reception held in the adjacent Cardinal Club Room, upbeat videos of LU events played on screens high overhead.

President Ken EvansPresident Kenneth Evans spoke to faculty and staff at the start of the 2017-2018 academic year in his fifth opening convocation address in the university’s Montagne Center Arena from a platform fitted out for Saturday’s summer commencement exercises that saw around 525 walk across the stage to receive diplomas of some 800 August graduates.

After a welcome from Provost Jim Marquart and introductions of the platform party, Athletic Director Jason Henderson introduced LU’s new Head Football Coach Mike Schultz.

Norman Bellard, assistant to the president for community relations and athletics program liaison, gave an update on the numerous “small victories” of the Greater South Park Neighborhoods Partnership that he and others initiated two years ago. The partnership has grown to about 50 active participants from the campus and community engaged in a wide array of projects to bring continual improvements to the areas adjacent to the campus.

President Evans first welcomed new full time and part time staff members and new faculty members. He then thanked returning staff and faculty for helping make the preceding year successful and looked forward to “what promises to be an even better year in 2016-2017.”

Video BoardsEvans introduced four students whose summer experiences represented those of more than 200 who studied abroad this year. Dillion Nicholson and Natalie Sfeir participated in study abroad as this year’s David J. Beck Fellows, and John Ellis and Rebekah Gonzales traveled as Presidential Summer Fellows. Nicholson, a senior sociology and French major, visited Paris and Quebec to study philosophy, social theory and French Language and culture. Sfeir, a sophomore speech and language pathology student, spent the summer in Ireland, England and Minnesota working with researchers on dementia. Ellis, a senior computer science major, worked in Allentown, Pennsylvania with Youth Education in the Arts. Gonzales, a junior majoring in theatre and dance, worked with Brila Youth Projects in Montreal. 

Study abroad participation has quadrupled in four years, Evans said, with 220 students engaging in international study opportunities in the past year. “We continue to seek partners and programs where we can expand these amazing growth opportunities thereby continuing to increase the number of students who can participate,” Evans said.

Evans shared updates on campus construction projects. “During the past year we dedicated two new buildings, broke ground on another, and began renovations of numerous facilities,” he said.   The Wayne A. Reaud Building opened last fall, and the Center for Innovation, Commercialization and Entrepreneurship opened last winter. A complete overhaul of the Setzer Student Center and Quadrangle is well underway, Evans said.

Norman BellardConstruction of the Science and Technology Building, LU’s first entirely new academic building in five decades, is moving ahead rapidly, Evans said. The building is set to open in November 2018. Other projects include renovation of Landes Auditorium in the Galloway Business Building, a new location for the Office of Human Resources, and a redesigned entrance and first floor of the Mary and John Gray Library.

Last year saw record enrollments in both fall and spring semesters. “As we look to continue this growth, our attention is centered on retention and significant improvements in our recruitment efforts,” Evans said. Greater capabilities in data analytics developed in LU’s recruiting efforts will be directed toward student retention, he said.

The growing body of knowledge on student success is being tapped to “inform how we help guide and support a student’s journey though their undergraduate experience,” Evans said. “We have created student learning communities and related freshman interest groups. While only a few years ago a modest undertaking, it now impacts hundreds of students each year,” he said. Programs aligning remedial courses with core curriculum in a mainstreaming program modeled after a number of successful initiatives nationwide “have had dramatic success in retention and matriculation,” he said.

Evans introduced Cardinal Bridge, a new program where entering freshmen live in the residence hall and take required freshman English and math core curriculum.

Coach SchultzHe said that LU’s Cardinal Village residence halls would be near capacity this fall, and that additional housing would considered for future years. LU’s decline in the enrollment of international students, part of a national trend, would drive a “particular focus on recruiting partnerships with select vendors in targeted countries.”

Reaffirmation of LU’s accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools-Commission on Colleges is underway and will continue through January 2020, Evans said. He introduced on initiative under the SACS–related Quality Enhancement Plan, a retention and matriculation effort branded Wings. “The spirit of this effort is to provide our students the ability to take flight and succeed in their respective degree programs,” Evans said. 

To conclude his remarks, Evans shared a list of university, program and individual accolades:

  • Times Higher Education and World University Rankings have identified Lamar University as one of 20 universities worldwide and one of just nine nationally that could “challenge the elite universities” and become globally renowned by 2030.
  • LU ranks in the Top 10 percent of universities in the nation on the new Social Mobility Index, which recognizes schools that do the best job of helping disadvantaged students graduate and start their careers.
  • LU is ranked 2nd in the nation for return on investment for engineering majors.
  • LU’s JoAnne Gay Dishman Department of Nursing is now the JoAnne Gay Dishman School of Nursing to better reflect the development of the program, elevating it to school status.
  • College of Business Dean Henry Venta was named Beta Gamma Sigma’s Dean of the Year nationally in 2017.
  • The U.S. Department of Education awarded a $1.25 million grant to the Department of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education to help prepare teachers for deaf and hard of hearing K-12 students who have additional disabilities.
  • Chris York, a sophomore double major in mathematics and computer science, was awarded the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship to make him the third student in LU’s history to become a Goldwater Scholar.
  • Dani Sanders, a political science graduate from this past May was selected for the prestigious Leon Jaworski Scholarship to Baylor School of Law for this fall through her exceptional achievement at this year’s Moot Court competition – a full-ride award.
  • Jennifer Daniel, associate professor of mathematics at Lamar University, has been selected to receive a 2017 Faculty Mentoring Award by the Council of Undergraduate Research to honor her success in directing students in undergraduate research.
  • Jane Liu was selected as a 2017 Texas State University System (TSUS) Chancellor’s Faculty Fellow and is studying first-year programs focused on student success.
  • Jeff Forret, professor of history, has been selected as the winner of the 2016 Frederick Douglass Book Prize for his book “Slave Against Slave: Plantation Violence in the Old South.”
  • The International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors has named Brande Flamez, distance clinical professor, president of their organization.

The event concluded with a flourish provided by Lamar University cheerleaders to the LU Alma Mater and Fight Song before faculty and staff returned to their work of preparation for the new semester.

President Ken EvansOn stage were: Ken Evans, president, Jim Marquart, provost and vice president for academic affairs, Craig Ness, vice president for finance and operations, Cruse Melvin, executive director for strategic planning, Vicki McNeil, vice president for student engagement, Juan Zabala, vice president for university advancement, John Bello-Ogunu, vice president for global diversity, inclusion and intercultural affairs, Kevin Smith, senior associate provost, Brenda Nichols, vice provost for digital learning, Kumer Das, interim associate provost for research and sponsored programs, Jason Henderson, director of athletics, William Harn, dean of graduate studies, Joe Nordgren, interim dean of arts and sciences, Henry Venta, dean of business, Robert Spina, dean of education and human development, Srinivas Palanki, dean of engineering, Derina Holtzhausen, dean of fine arts and communication, Norman Bellard, assistant to the president for community relations and athletics program liaison, Mike Schultz, head football coach, Sara Tusa, interim director of library services, Vivek Natarajan, Faculty Senate president, Diann Brodnax, Staff Council president, and Kevin Dodson, dean of the Reaud Honors College.